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The Danish Atlantic

A transdisciplinary symposium on the realities and effects of Denmark’s participation in the transatlantic slave trade

Info about event


Friday 15 January 2016, at 09:00 - Saturday 16 January 2016, at 17:00


Friday, January 15th

9.30-10.00 Registration

10.00-10.15 Welcome - Sine J. Smed and Mads Anders Baggesgaard

The early colonization (moderator: Jonas Ross Kjærgård)

10.15-10.45 Edgar Peireira and Kaare Writa (Leiden University): Project Glückstadt. The origins of the Danish Atlantic

10.45-11.15 Johan Heinsen (Aalborg University): Convicts and Coercion in the Seventeenth-Century Danish Atlantic

11.15-11.30: Break 

Tracing the Middle Passage (moderator: Mads Anders Baggesgaard)

11.30.-12.00 Göran Rydén (Uppsala University): Metals in the Danish Transatlantic Slave Trade. A study of Commodities brought from Copenhagen, 1700-1754

12.00-12.30 Robbert van Sluijs (Radboud University): Traces of West Africa in the Danish West Indies and its 18th century language documentation

12.30-13.30 Lunch

Colonial legacies (moderator: Karen-Margrethe Simonsen)

13.30-14.30 Lars Jensen and Bjørn Ligner (Roskilde University): Beyond Borders - Coloniality and the Postcolonial European Nation 

14.30-15.00 Louise Sebro (National Museum of Denmark): History and commemoration: The 1733 St. John Slave Revolt and the annual march to the site of the beginning of the revolt

15.00-15.15: Break

Danish imprints of slavery (moderator: Frits Andersen)

15.15.-15.45 Erik Gøbel (Danish National Archives): The abolition of the Danish slave trade

15.45-16.15: Sine J. Smed (Aarhus University): Slaves and slavery in Danish literature in the 19th century

Saturday, January 16th

Traces of colonial life (moderator: Jonas Ross Kjærgård)

9.30-10.00 Mads Anders Baggesgaard (Aarhus University): The Port of Freedom – Slavery and Literature in Charlotte Amalie

10.00-10.30 Douglas Armstrong (Syracuse University): Archaeological Explorations of Enslavement and Freedom in the Danish West Indies

10.30-11.00 Peter Stein (Prof. of Romance Linguistic, Emeritus): A testimony on the slaves' life and language on the Virgin Islands in the second half of the 18th century: C.G.A Oldendorp's Historie der caribischen Inseln Sanct Thomas, Sanct Crux und Sanct Jan.?

11.00-11.15: Break

The languages in the Danish West Indies (moderator: Frits Andersen)

11.15-11.45 Cefas van Rossem (Radboud University): Dutch as a koine? Demography an philology to study the early audience design of St. Thomas

11.45-12.15 Peter Bakker (Aarhus University): Danish slave traders’ and settlers’ communication in the Atlantic: Danish, European or African Language? 

12.15-12.45 Kristoffer Friis Bøgh (Aarhus University): Where did the slaves of the Danish West Indies come from in Africa, and which languages did they speak?

12.45-13.30 Lunch  

Reading Slavery

13.30-14.15 Frits Andersen and Karen-Margrethe Simonsen (Aarhus University): Presentation of research project and discussion of possible future collaborations

14.15-14.30 Break

Exhibiting the colonial past (moderator: Sine Jensen Smed)

14.30-15.00 Niklas Thode Jensen (Danish National Archives): Digitizing the Danish West Indies: Goals and challenges of the Danish National Archives’ project to put its West Indian records online

15.00-15.30 Mette Kia Krabbe Møller (The Royal Library): Images as visual sources: representing the former Danish West Indies.

15.30-16.00 Dineke Stam (Mapping Slavery team NL / Intercultural Museum and Heritage Projects): Absent Presence of Slavery in European Museums

16.00-16.15 Closing remarks - Mads Anders Baggesgaard


The acquisition of three small islands in the Caribbean known as the Danish West Indies in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and the estab-lishment of trade stations in West Africa, allowed Denmark to become a significant partici-pant in the lucrative triangular trade across the Atlantic. This trade provided Copenhagen with profit, colonial goods and transcultural ex-changes that helped shape the development of modern Denmark.

Nevertheless, Denmark's history as a colonial power and a nation that used and traded in slaves has until recently only been a peripheral part of Danish historiography. Over the last two decades, important work within the fields of history and anthropology has generated more knowledge of the realities of the Danish slave trade and colonialism, but large questions regarding the impact of colonialism and its lasting effects on the culture on the three continents remain unanswered.

This symposium therefore invites interested scholars from a variety of disciplines to engage in a transdisciplinary discussion on the realities and effects of Denmark's participation in the transatlantic slave trade. The slave trade affected society and culture on a range of different levels including politics, economics, art, literature and demography. It is therefore obvious that different disciplines offer different perspectives into this area. However, it is also clear that the subject of slavery transcends the divisions between the fields involved. The texts, images, traces and facts relating to slavery are not confined to one of these fields, but cross boundaries and define their own fields. Transdisciplinarity should therefore also be understood as a way to approach a single field, which is characterised, by different traditions, employing different and perhaps overlapping methodologies and strategies.

The symposium is intended as an opportunity to discuss methods, problems and of course also facts and fictions relating to the three angles in the Danish transatlantic trade from the 17th century until today. It will be an opportunity to gain insight into the different focuses on and on-going projects related to the colonial (slave) trade, as well as laying the ground for future co-operation within the field. Possible topics include, but are of course not limited to:

  • Methodological problems and procedures related to the study of slavery and colonialism in Denmark
  • The relationship between the triangular trade and East Indian and North Atlantic colonialism
  • The relationship between Danish colonial-ism, other Scandinavian colonial endeavours and the large European colonial systems
  • The importance of representations and discussions of slavery for the development of Danish political discourses on rights, liberty, freedom and democracy
  • Danish commemorations and heritage related to slavery, colonialism and the slave trade
  • The establishment of the Danish colonial system as part of a new globalised economy
  • New knowledge relating to the archeology and history of Danish colonialism
  • Commemoration culture and aftereffects relating to
  • Danish colonialism in West Africa and the Caribbean


Participation is free, but please send an email to one of these addresses, if you wish to listen in on the seminar:



Organisers ?

Sine Jensen Smed, PhD student, Department of Comparative Literature, Aarhus University

Mads Anders Baggesgaard, Assistant Professor, Department of Comparative Literature, Aarhus University

The symposium will be arranged by the research group Reading Slavery, based at the Department of Comparative Literature, Aarhus University, supported by the School of Aesthetics and Communication, and by generous fund-ing from the Velux Foundation. The research project Reading Slavery aims to study the literary implications of the transatlantic slave trade. Through the comparative study of a broad range of literary artefacts related to colonial slavery, the project highlights the recip-rocal cultural exchanges between colonies and colonisers. Two of the six members of the group, Sine Jensen Smed and Mads Anders Baggesgaard, are dedicated to a Danish focus.